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Jose Altuve's MVP-caliber season is one for the ages so far

Jose Altuve's 4.4 WAR so far this season trails only Mike Trout's 4.7. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

At first, Jose Altuve was a novelty act, a little guy who could spray line drives all over the place and steal some bases.

Then he became an All-Star. Then he got better. Then he became an MVP candidate.

Altuve went 4-for-5 in the Houston Astros' 10-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday. It was his second four-hit game in five days. He has reached base in 32 straight games, and with the Astros off Thursday, he finishes June with a .420 average and 42 hits in 26 games. He's hitting .357/.432/.572, has 39 extra-base hits and has 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts. Entering Wednesday, he trailed only Mike Trout in WAR, 4.7 to 4.4. Considering Trout's Angels are well below .500, while the Astros have won 10 of their past 11 to climb back to within a half-game of a wild-card spot, that makes Altuve a leading MVP candidate in the American League -- and maybe the leading MVP candidate.

Altuve's improvement -- he has already walked more times than he did in all of 2015, and he is two home runs shy of last year's career high of 15 -- has been documented. He has been more patient, and that has led not just to more walks but also to his swinging at more pitches that he can drive with power. He has such quick hands that he is able to make contact even while chasing pitches out of the zone. He paid the price for that aggressiveness, however, by hitting just .217 on pitches out of the zone last year. His chase rate in 2016 has declined from 34.1 percent each of the past two seasons to 27.6 percent this season.

Here's the fun part: Altuve's season pace -- I know, I know -- means we could be witnessing one of the best seasons from a second baseman in the past 50 years. He is on pace for .357 average, 27 home runs, 49 doubles, 43 steals, 123 runs and about 9.0 WAR if we double his current total. Here are some of the best seasons by a second baseman since the divisional era began in 1969, including Baseball-Reference WAR and the player's result in MVP balloting:

These aren't necessarily the 10 best seasons. Joe Morgan's 1972 and 1973 seasons would rank fourth and fifth on the list behind Craig Biggio's 1997. Morgan, of course, is comparable to Altuve in one fashion: He stood 5-foot-7, which gives him a couple inches on Altuve. Morgan put up big numbers for his era, especially compared to other second basemen. He led the majors in OBP and OPS in both of his MVP seasons. He wasn't just a good hitter for a second baseman; he was the best hitter at any position while swiping 60-plus bags and playing good defense.

There's a Chuck Knoblauch season from 1996 that I didn't include here that was valued at 8.6 WAR. He was a very similar player to Altuve: short, quick stroke, surprising power for his size, good speed and high energy.

Jeff Kent's 2000 MVP season ranks just 31st on the list of best seasons since 1969. He put up monster offensive numbers, but in an era of monster numbers (2000 was the highest-scoring season of the steroids era), and he wasn't the defensive player some of the others were. Dustin Pedroia's MVP season in 2008 rates at 6.9 WAR. It wasn't a historic season in any manner, but he won MVP honors in a year without a strong favorite.

What impresses me is how these top guys were such amazing all-around players, and Altuve fits right in. He contributes in all areas, and a big bonus this year is that he has cut down on his baserunning mistakes.

It seems to me that second basemen are often underrated in the excitement factor. Maybe they don't play the glamour position of shortstop, so their athleticism gets overlooked. They run more than third basemen and first basemen and most corner outfielders while playing a demanding defensive position. They make turning a double play look easy when it isn't. Yet since 1969, a first baseman has won MVP honors 19 times and a second baseman just five times.

Maybe Jose Altuve will make that six.